One percent

I've noticed a lot of people grumbling lately about the Town of Chapel Hill's "Percent for Art" Program, which designates 1% of the budget for new facilities toward public art. Some penny pinchers feel this expenditure is extravagant during our current budget squeeze. I disagree.

Creativity is a fundamental part of humanity. I picture a world without art as something between George Orwell's "1984" and Cary - in short, not a place I want to be. We live in a community that is uniquely expressive. For example look at Franklin Street on Halloween, you will see thousands of adults publicly expressing their creativity and humor. This is not something that happens in other towns.

On her blog, Council Member Sally Greene wrote a thoughtful response to the Chamber of Commerce Director Aaron Nelson's questions of why the new Town Operations Center should waste money on public art. According to the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission:

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world-the artist's response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.
- What is public art?

By tapping into and expressing our creativity, we connect to the heart of our community, not just the mind. This connection is important to our quality of life, and I would argue that it even adds to our healthy economy. Innovative business people are more successful, right?

In my opinion, one percent is a small price to pay for our community's vitality and mental health.



Let me make sure we are clear on one of the issues that has recently made the papers, that is the $400,000 for art in the new Towns Operations Center. The city is financing the $30+ million operations center with bonds, and the investment in public art is part of those bonds. So if the art was cut out of the project, it would save literally pennies in the annual bond payments. It is incorrect that we could pay for 8 fireman or police positions next year, by diverting those funds from the operations center project. The bond funds and projects are seperate, and financed differently, than the operating budget of the city.

The citizens budget committee, along with the Council, are looking at all avenues to lower next years tax increase. I believe there are benefits to the community regarding public art (and will let others argue them in this thread), but cutting out the public art in the operations project will not financially change the towns budget problems.

Gene Pease

I think that the issue for some of us "grumblers" is that we rarely build something that costs $42 million. We also know that some of the cost of a large expenditure facility could include difficult and expensive site work, and this skews the 1% straight-line formula. When we have such a large expenditure for something like an operations center, does 1% for art make for good public policy? I would be in favor of a cap based of the total cost of very expensive facilities, such that the art budget would end up being less than 1%.

It is not about not having any art, or not liking, valuing, or respecting the positive value of art. It is about responsible decision-making that is in the best interest of the community. If people think that $420,616 for art at the new operations center is justifiable when we are facing a possible 20% increase in taxes, then we will have to disagree on what responsible budgeting means.

If a family sets aside a fixed amount of the family income each year for a vacation, and then they have to replace the roof, do they use the vacation set-aside money and forgo the luxury of a vacation, or just go into multi-year debt to fix the roof? I think responsible financial management offers a clear answer.

By the same token, can we afford almost a half-million for art at an operations center at this point?

I do appreciate public art, but spending
on it can go too far at times.
I'm on the Budget Review Advisory
Committee and its subcommittee that
reviews some recent town spending
decisions. Aaron Nelson is also on the BRAC and this subcommittee. We
will meet this evening at 5:30
at the CofC office on Estes Drive.
It's an advertised public meeting, so
all are welcome. Here is an email that
I wrote to the subcommittee members
that we will discuss this evening about
the recent public art decision:

Rather than sugar-coat it, I'll simply express my strong opinion about
a recent council spending decision, and suggest a correction.

I believe that spending $426,000 for public art at the Town Operations
Center on Millhouse/Eubanks Road would be profligate in a flush
budget year, much less during the lean times we now face. I am troubled
also by the location of the future public art, constructed where
few of the public will actually see it.

I suggest that the Budget Review Advisory Committee recommend that the town
council reduce the public art spending for the Town Operations Center to
$100,000, and locate the public art in prominent location(s) in town so it
will be widely viewed by town

Project for Public Spaces also has a definition of public art:

The TOC location was rightfully chosen for its usefulness as a TOC. Along the way, however, principle 1 above was violated by making the usefulness of land for a TOC the only site selection criterion, thus removing the public from a key decision involving public art. Unsurprisingly, the level of buy-in seems to be pretty low.

Public art belongs in places used by the PUBLIC, not simply public employees. The number of people who will ever go to the town operations center, who do not work there will remain miniscule, even with a few public meeting rooms. It is quite possible that any strip mall-style restaurant in Eastgate will engage far more citizens in a month than the TOC will in a year or even longer.

For better or worse, Chapel Hill/Carrboro has few major public spaces, and when you consider the scale of investment, the only places I would consider worthy of $420,000 of focused public art investment are Franklin St, UNC's Pit, the Weaver St Market lawn, or potentially the new space created by the 300 E Main development.

This leaves us with a bigger question worth answering, which is "what is public space?" America has proven to be an excellent place for constructing private spaces for the last 50-60 years, but in the meantime, we've become woefully unskilled in creating functional public spaces.

When we get public spaces right, then the locations where public art will resonate most with the community will naturally emerge and garner support in the community.

To close: good idea, poor implementation. My sense is this is the key objection to spending the money.

Two very interesting and timely threads going on here.

1) 1% may make a lot of sense for projects that are located where the public will access the art, but it really seems out of whack for an operations center. The cost of the operations center just is so much more than its public presence and distorts any percentage.

2) What value is Maximus bringing to the table? They come up with one recycled idea that has all sorts of drawbacks (does this mean more garbage trucks travelling through town?) for a significant amount of money. Other than perceived political cover for the council members running for re-election this year, does anyone really believe this has been a good use of funds?

I like the comment above about the complete lack of leadership/stewardship from our town's management in both of these situations. Let's do something about it and bring in some new management this fall!

1 percent for art is a reasonable expenditure. It's many of the other expenditures which send the town budget skyward, and inevitably cause taxes to increase that are the problem. I think this is just the straw that broke the vox populis camel's back.

I am drawn back to my point about merger. When both towns budgets are strained to the point of tax increase, why are we as citizens not demanding that our local government be more fiscally responsible. With the savings from losing one mayor, one town attorney, one town plnning office, one fire chief, one police chief, and about a half a dozen alderpersons, you could buy a Van Gogh every couple of years, which would not only be public art, but a good investment.

I don't think public art is a bad thing. I think it's one of many good things our leaders need to choose from. I don't question that the choice is tough one this go around. Personally I think the city has already commissioned the man to make the art for the new works yard and it would be an act of bad faith not to pay for it. That decision was made before the managers told council that (woops!) the numbers we gave you were just a bit off the mark.

Some of the other possible cuts are to sell the post office and hope to find a new place for a teen center where the kids could get together in a somewhat drug and violence free zone. That wouldn't be my pick. Nor would I sell the homeless shelter. I use the library at least twice a week and if the expansion were delayed I wouldn't mind. I've never been to the Chapel Hill Museam; If it were sold I wouldn't mind but before the city goes there it should ponder the stink that will be raised by "concerened" neighbors

Joe, the meeting tonight does NOT appear in the Town's calendar.
Where else would it be published?

As far as the Art funding, doesn't it undermine the %1 rule to redeploy the monies to another location? I'd like to see the %1 be deferred but not canceled until we can better afford it.
Chapel Hill needs to learn to live within its means - whether that means a reduction in gas-guzzlin' SUVs or deferring the natatorium or stretching the Art budget out - it's time.

We've had a failure from top management to properly anticipate some of the budget problems or to pro-actively address the shortfalls. Joe, given that Maximus chose not to review using IT to reduce cost or to make recommendations to modify management, has your committee discussed restructuring management and streamline/automate services within town to avoid further problems?

Please, can we have some accuracy in reporting??? As far as I know, Aaron Nelson never uttered the word *waste* in connection with his question about the art. He simply asked a question that many of us taxpaying citizens want asked as well--is this expenditure the best use of limited resources during a fiscal crunch, and is the art even in the right place for the majority of the public to see it? This committee was specifically told that everything is on the table for consideration--and that is as it should be. I would hope they are having frank and lively discussions about every single line item of our town budget.

Aaron doesn't need me to make his case--he's quite articulate on his own behalf--but I take exception to changing the meaning and intent of anyone's comments through subtle and selective editorializing.

I am constantly surprised that everyone is so concerned about the budget but no one is asking why or how we got into this position (for both towns). If the town's keep expanding their residential populations without growing their businesses, the budget problems are sure to persist. We need a better balance; 1% for art doesn't help to achieve that goal. But art is still important. Since so many developers are getting rich on our community, why not levy that tax on them instead of on the town?

I also love the revolving art exhibits at Chapel Hill's town hall. Why not expand that program to other public spaces? Professional art is inspiring and often is more aesthetically pleasing that amateur art, but there's also a lot to be said for nurturing the creativity of our non-professional artists, especially in the face of such a onerous deficit.

The problems with rules, such as the 1% solution, is that they take time to become institutionalized. This one has come at a bad time, and criticism of it should not be construed as a dislike for public art.

Grumbling over bread and roses aside, the larger grumbling I've heard is over Chapel Hill's $100,000 contribution to the proposed New Hope Creek Park. Some respected environmentalists around here see this park as largely a Solterra NIMBY effort. There's an argument that preserving the 20 acres that Crosland will build on (none of which abuts NHC), will be so costly at $75,000/ acre that the purchase will severely limit spending on more worthy conservation projects.
This issue is much like the arts issue. What Solterra wants is not bad, neither is art in new buildings, but both benefit the few, not the many, a luxury in these hard budget times.
I mine as well throw out the other big grumbling I hear coming from the county landfill. Some doubt that the landfill will be able to cope with the loss of income that will follow cessation of commercial trash services. Private, less well-regulated trash services will be an attractive, cheaper alternative to the landfill. I hope we don't make a mess out of this one.

Joe, do we have an authoritative number for the amount Maximus is charging us? I noticed that they want an additional "38,155 from fund balance" to do a study to rebalance the current fee structures. Quick aside. Does it make sense to have a company like Maximus claim that our fees are out of whack and then have them prove this by commissioning another costly study?

If the Town authorizes an additional $38K, what does this bring us up to - $80,000 + the new $38K for a grand total of $118K?

I'm still trying to figure out if their 2001vehicle fleet review was of value, how close is the Budget board reviewing Maximus's value/cost proposition?

Since their cornerstone proposal seems center on the old chestnuts of commercial trash and Ms. Waldorf's bothersome "public housing" pickup argu ments (which many citizens have spoken about in years past), are we getting any new ideas to justify the Maximus fees?

It's quite interesting that private companies are able to make a living (and a profit) dumping commercial trash while the town considers abandoning the same trash pick up. How many town employees will lose their jobs if commercial trash service is eliminated? Why don't we consider making that division a profit center---charge a market rate and keep our town employees employed? That way people keep their jobs, we don't lose the investment in our infrastructure (trash trucks, dumpsters, etc). Businesses will pay somebody to dump trash, why not the town?

As Chair of the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission's Percent for Art program, and Chair of the Artist Selection Committee that recommended the TOC as an appropriate site for public artworks as well as the selection of Larry Kirkland to design these two projects, I believe that I can accurately respond to some of the posts concerning public art the TOC.

Here are some facts:

The two works of public art at the TOC do not cost $420,000: the Public Works Plaza and Wall will cost $240,312 for all design, fabrication, delivery, installation, insurance, maintenance for two years, and all expenses encumbered by the artist. The Curved Bench outside the TOC's Transit Administration Building will cost the Town $18,034 because 80% of the project's total cost is borne by the Federal Transit Administration and 10% is derived from NC DOT funds. Furthermore, the cost for these artworks does not come from the Town's general fund, but is appropriated from the construction budget's contingency.

Arguments that suggest that percent for art funds could be spent elsewhere are fallacious because the one percent is calculated from a specific project's budget as identified in the annual CIP for the Town of Chapel Hill. In fact, the one percent for art is a fraction of the project's "contingency" budget. To suggest that this money could be allocated to another project, or another Town service, is simply incorrect (Gene Pease's understanding of the Ordinance is correct.) All CIP Percent for Art projects must be site specific to the capital improvement project, and if these funds were not allocated for public art they would remain with the project as a reserve against design and/or construction cost overages.

The TOC was recommended as an appropriate site for public art because it will intersect the Town's greenways and sustainability trails. Kirkland selected the two outdoor project sites precisely because each will receive maximum visibility and use by the public. Throughout the design process, he has been attentive to the three goals the Town identified for TOC: environmental sensitivity, sustainability, and fiscal prudence.

Kirkland has designed two works that are functional for the public and the employees of Chapel Hill Transit and Public Works. Specifically, the new Public Works Administration Building will have a conference and training space that can be used for public meetings; the building opens out onto a large landscaped plaza abutting a hardwood forest with a variety of old specimen trees. The public artwork was placed at this far end of the plaza to serve as an important connection joining the department, the wooded landscape, and the walking trails. It will also serve as a buffer to mitigate the sound of traffic from I-40 at this end of the site. The artwork for Chapel Hill Transit is at the entrance to the building.

Public art is fundamentally unlike any other artistic process insofar as its design relies on interaction and iteration; it demands a collaborative engagement between artist and client. Since his selection, Larry Kirkland has had four design review sessions with project representatives, including a televised design presentation before the Town Council. His process is transparent, open, and accessible.

Artist selection for the TOC projects was conducted by a 19-person committee with representatives from Chapel Hill Transit, Public Works, the Town Manager's office, the Town Council, the Public Arts Commission, outside arts professionals, community members, and the project architect, which collectively drafted a national call for artists, reviewed submissions from157 applicants, interviewed 5 candidates, and selected Larry Kirkland, an internationally renowned public artist with more than 30 years of experience. Under his direction, these artworks will create vitality and recognition for our community. Front line employees of Chapel Hill Transit and Public Works have been involved throughout the public design process, and their ideas and perceptions about their jobs have shaped these public artworks.

Here is my feeling:

The most difficult aspect of this ongoing discussion is my sense that some people do not believe that the Town employees - who maintain the infrastructure of our community - are worthy of experiencing public artworks. The TOC is the location where the people who keep Chapel Hill running, clean, and safe begin their days, and often their nights. The Public Works Department is where vehicle mechanics keep the fleet of police cars, fire trucks, and garbage trucks in working order; employees clear roads and repair damage from natural disasters; landscapers prune trees, mow, and plant public landscape; custodians sweep our streets, and collect our garbage and debris; and engineers replace traffic signals and light bulbs. At Chapel Hill Transit, drivers and mechanics make sure we get where we need to be safely and on time. These individuals and their departments are the caretakers of our Town. It is arrogant to imply that public employees are less deserving than others of enjoying or appreciating art.

I am also disturbed that there is the perception that public art projects are less vital than other community needs. For example, we do not presume that police officers are more important than fire fighters, or sidewalks are less important than walking trails. I am confounded by the judgment that works of public art at TOC are "elitist," which implies that art has an inherently "appropriate" experiential quality that can only be found in galleries or museums. According to Jack Becker of Public Art Review, "…an average of 55 million viewers experience public art firsthand everyday, approximately 1000 times the audience experiencing art galleries, museums, and theaters average public art project provides 50 times the economic impact of arts events in traditional venues, yet the cost to the public for public art is less than 50 cents per taxpayer per year.…"

Government has the responsibility and the opportunity to provide access to the arts for everyone. Our local democracy should aspire to greatness with humility and understanding, not with the goal of mediocrity, which is a life without art. Public art belongs to all of us: I encourage everyone to share in the process and to enjoy its results.

Thanks Janet for your comments. I do think they add to our understanding of this situation.

You say, "For example, we do not presume that police officers are more important than fire fighters, or sidewalks are less important than walking trails."

I say that that is exactly what we must do when our needs/wants exceed our resources. Resource availability forces us to only hire another policeman, even though we also need another fireman. We only build a critical sidewalk because we can't afford to also build a walking trail. These are tough choices, but they have to be made.

This is a process we must use because we can't do everything that we want to do or even need to do. My problem with the fixed, straight-line formula is that it does not give us the opportunity to apply a needs and means test based on the resources available.

As I remember the "debate" over the 1% policy, avoiding this financial analytic process for each and every public facility was the very goal of some supporters.

Let me conclude by saying that opposing the fixed, straight-line 1% formula does not mean one opposes public art; for me it means that we must be exceptional stewards of public funds and the decisions on how much art we can afford should be made as stated above.

As Janet points out, a key point made by Gene Pease above has been overlooked by others:

"cutting out the public art in the operations project will not financially change the town's budget problems."

That strikes me as the needed perspective to help us put this discussion to rest and focus instead on matters that might actually have a significant impact on the town's budget and tax rate.

And I thought from Ruby's initial post that the issue was why people were grumbling about the 1% for public art.

The TOC situation may not change the current budget situation, but the 1% program will surely affect future budgets. Plus, perceptions about this affect how people feel about their elected leaders and the confidence that they have in the kind of stewards of our money that they are.

Now, is anybody going to start a discussion on thoughts on the budget and the tax rate?

Anything financed through bonds has a future cost, a cost that grows over time. With the way the fed is going, interest payments will probably grow rapidly over the next couple of years. The town is currently paying $2 million+ annually in debt service without the Town Operation Centers. By diverting $420,000 of the funds allocated for contingencies, how do we pay for real contingencies, such as cost overruns and other unanticipated costs...borrow more?

I'm not arguing against public art--I'm just pointing out that debt is a future cost and incurring more debt will just recycle this whole budget dilemma to future years. That's why the Technology Advisory Board recommended not buying new computers this year. Our estimate is that in the first year we would save $20,000 (the costs of however many computers were scheduled for replacement this year) and then $50,000 per year for the next 3 years (costs + interest payments).

Isn't it just a little disingenuous to suggest that money saved on art couldn't be spent elsewhere ? It would only require town council to repeal the ordinance, or am I being obtuse ?

And what is this study about people being "exposed" to public art ? Does that mean they walk by it ? For art to edify and have meaning, someone has to take note of it and reflect on it. Somehow a hallway in a government building does not seem the most logical place for that, as most people visiting are coming and going in a frame of mind that isn't consistent with thoughtful contemplation of art.

It still seems that we could better spend this money, even in "the arts"

I heard no one arrogantly implying that public employees are less deserving than others of enjoying and appreciating art. People want art, need art, must have art. What I hear is that we sorely lack adequate venues for the display of public art. Clyde Road is better than nothing, but I bet public employees would much rather have a great park with public art, something that could handle festivals like the Fiesta del Pueblo. It's time we establish a Central Park in Orange County and stop pandering to special interests here and there. We've got small public spaces galore, but nothing big, inviting, inspiring and accessible to all.

I like Mary's idea.

"Arguments that suggest that percent for art funds could be spent elsewhere are fallacious because the one percent is calculated from a specific project's budget as identified in the annual CIP for the Town of Chapel Hill."

"Kirkland selected the two outdoor project sites precisely because each will receive maximum visibility and use by the public."

"Government has the responsibility and the opportunity to provide access to the arts for everyone."

These statements reflect a misunderstanding of the concerns voiced about this issue.

The argument is not that funds could be spent elsewhere under the Rule, it is that the One Percent Rule is flawed and that if the policy is to continue, it should be changed so that funds allocated for public art are not required to be spent at the location of the project generating the 1% dollar figure. Kirkland may have chosen the location at the TOC that would provide maximum visibility for those who visit the TOC, but not for the public in the broader sense.

Just to be clear, that is not a critique of Kirkland. It is a critique of a process that will place the most significant investment in public art Chapel Hill has ever made (correct me if I'm wrong) in one of the most remote locations in the town, abutting an interstate highway and the confluence of three greenways that do not yet exist, which as far as I can tell, are relatively low priorities for construction in the town's bike/ped plans.

Nobody has said anything about the worthiness of anyone else to view and enjoy art, public or otherwise. Several have suggested that public art's worth increases when it is placed in a location that maximizes the number of citizens who can access and enjoy it.

In closing, I was recently in Charlotte, and they have a public art display/monument to transportation. It's on the corner of Trade and Tryon, their version of Franklin and Columbia. Would there be any harm in celebrating the contributions of our bus drivers, mechanics, technicians, and other infrastructure/maintenance workers in such a prominent place?

Patrick, you can not take bond money from a capital project and spend it somewhere else.

Dan- I'm aware of that, very much so in the case of funds allocated from the Federal Transit Administration.

I'm suggesting that in order to avoid the buy-in problems that have occurred with this project, the Town find another way to fund public art that isn't tied to individual capital projects and their funding streams.

This would allow for the site selection process for artwork to be citizen-driven, rather than driven by the location of capital projects.

Well Maximus trimmed its estimate of the savings yielded by dropping commercial trash collection. Big surprise! In reviewing the Council minutes for the last 6 years, you can see that this option has been discussed numerous times with the same outcome. So, back to my previous questions. One, for the Budget Board, are we getting any real value from Maximus (I'm still looking for the savings from the Town's previous usage of Maximus)? Two, how can the Town Manager want to dump another $38K on Maximus?

I would have to agree that 1% of taxpayer monies is too much. In the culturally rich and diverse community of Chapel Hill, it stands to reason that there are many folks and organizations that could fund or donate money to the town for such items. I'm sure any proposal that involves giving to the town would be warmly recieved by the town council. Therefore, the 1% in question could be used wisely to help fund affordable housing, livable wages for town employees, and the like.

James, why wait for Fall? We can start evaluating whether the Town's manager has the tools to meet both the current and new challenges facing us. Sure, the management style was adequate when the Town was smaller, and, sure, maybe a historical/traditional focus on security ( and a few chosen departments to the exclusion of others) wasn't fatal to the Town or its finances but we're now in a new ballgame. Shrinking state and federal monies, widening gaps in police and fire protection, bond miscalculations, sluggish innovation, etc. - I don't see how the Town continues to make further strikes before it's called out.

We need proactive management. We need capable, adaptable management. We need management unafraid to adopt current proven methodologies and techniques. We need management with a modern touch.

James, we're in a heck of a hole right now, a hole created over at least the last eight years, and ,as the old saw goes, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

How much more of the current management's "shoveling" does the Town endure? Why wait until we're six months deeper into that hole? I suggest that you contact the current Council and ask for the evaluation to begin now.

How can you fault a town hall that pushed the renaming of Airport Road to a better sounding Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. Doesn't that make you feel good? These people even went so far as to spend a weekend at one of our finest hotels (cost:$15,000) to pat themselves on the back for making such a wise and noble decision. Now that we have a new operations center on Eubanks road, wouldn't it sound good to rename Eubanks Road, Rosa Parks Parkway ? Ralph Abernathy Freeway? Malcolm X Crossroads? Reverend Jesse Jackson Junction?
Come on, it's only another penny, another one percent! And It'll look good on official city stationary.

James, have you had a chance to review Maximus' final report?

If not, you might want to chew on a couple Tums before reading it.

Prepare for recommendations like a less responsive Town Hall,

A hallmark of Town government is the focus on customer service; we observed the attitude of prompt responsiveness to citizens at all levels of Town government. While this is highly commendable, it can also result in less effective work efforts when staff are called on for citizen response rather than performing assigned work. Local governments are finding that formal programs of customer relations management can achieve the desired result of maintaining high levels of customer responsiveness by integrating customer relations into planned work activity. This is something that the Town may wish to consider in the future.

a shaved down ($300K or a lessened $100K) proposal to limit commercial garbage collection and an increase in fees

MAXIMUS identified the potential to generate additional revenues through fee adjustments. However, a full cost of services analysis will also identify areas that the Town can examine in detail to help determine whether fees should be increased to cover the costs, processes changed to provide the services more efficiently, or programs eliminated because the costs do not justify the benefits of providing the services.

(if we're willing to drop another $38K on Maximus).

Hopefully the Budget committee will suggest saving us a quick $38K by rejecting any further Maximus studies and go with some of both their and our citizen suggestions that avoid revenue enhancements.

Maybe the community can do what Maximus did

A lengthy internet search of Housing Departments, who are departments within municipal governments and not separate authorities, did not indicate an industry practice of combined building maintenance functions for housing units and public buildings. One of the Housing Department's primary functions is to ensure proper repair and maintenance of rental units. More than half of the staff in the Housing Department is devoted to maintaining the 336 housing units. To combine building maintenance for Housing and Public Works would be a significant variation from national norms.

to ascertain whether the combination of the Town's maintenance functions was appropriate and perform a Google search on whether we're paying enough fees.

This is a very disappointing report. No review of fleet management (targeted decreases in fuel usage, future contracts on fuel, a study to determine if our fleet mileage is appropriate, a determination whether the fleet is top heavy with luxury SUVs, etc.). A postponement of critical technology investments or IT strategy development. An emphasis on increasing our tax burden (sorry, fee burden) and reductions in staff, etc.

Where's the orthogonal thinking? Reduce the number of payroll cycles? How the heck didn't the Town manager not implement a consistent payroll system years ago?

Maybe it's in the report somewhere, but I couldn't discern the relevant recommendations I'd make: live within your means, pay as you go, think, invest in the future, make your money do double duty.


Ruby Sinreich states that a world without art is an Orwellian 1984 scenario. And I agree. But we are not talking about the government banning art; we are talking about the government funding and choosing art for citizens.

If the government doesn't fund public art this does not mean that artists will stop producing art or that citizens and business owners will not purchase art on their own. To imply that unless the government steps in no one will have art in their life seems like a patronizing and controlling mindset. And a controlling mindset is the essence of George Orwell's “1984” society.

The same mindset that says the government must provide art in public places “to raise our cultural awareness and foster a sense of community” goes hand in hand with the mindset that the government must foster citizens' health by banning all cigarette smoking even in outside public places; by conducting an aggressive war on drugs ( which may even entail imprisoning cancer patients who use pot for nausea caused by chemotherapy); and by passing stricter legislation on alcohol purchases. And lately there has been lots of talk about obesity and the need for citizens to lead healthier lifestyles. And some government officials have suggested promoting more citizen exercise by penalizing those who drive cars by cutting parking spaces and raising auto related fees. And in Orwell's “1984” the perfect citizen was one who didn't smoke, drink or have sex and government telecasters promoted health by demanding citizens engage in mandatory exercise.

But public art aside, if we really want to talk about Orwellian policies we might want to discuss the issue of government officials taking private homes and businesses through eminent domain and the fact that many public agencies are pursuing policies and legislation that would limit the public and the press from gaining access to public information and public meetings. In Chapel Hill, OWASA, the Downtown Economic Development Corporation and UNC have either pushed for secrecy in the past or are currently pushing for secrecy legislation right now. Those who want more information can read articles on these issues at and can also provide input at the e-mail address.

Robin Cutson

100% Right On Robin! You've got my full support.

I know that topics come and go around here . . . having been a quiet lurker for more than a year . . . but it speaks volumes about Chapel Hill (in particular) that the topic of art and culture has gone untouched for more than three months.

My own view on this topic is rather cynical. I do not support public funding of public art in Chapel Hill simply because I have no confidence that the art we would fund would be worthy of public money.

Let me be quick to say that I greatly admire and appreciate the work of folks involved in our public art programs. They volunteer enormous amounts of time and their hearts are certainly in the right place. Hats off to involved citizens.

But . . . and there is a big but . . . I find generally that public art in Chapel Hill is pedestrian at best -- and embarrassing at worst. Frankly, I don't think our cute little town has the stomach for art that makes a difference. Quaint and bland trumps meaningful every time.

The most compelling case in point goes back ten or so years when Chapel Hill had the opportunity to install a remarkable series of sculptures downtown . . . focused on the issue of gun violence. Designed by world-famous artist Thomas Sayre, the scupltures were provocative -- and almost unanimously supported by the public arts commission. But before the day was done, however, elected officials caved to public concerns and stopped the project in its tracks. The elegant installation was gone, replaced instead by the piles of welded junk that now despoil many of our public spaces.

There is nothing more destructive to the power of public art than the need for public consensus about it. And when those seeking consensus are polticially motivated elected officials, my worries only magnify. I find it most disturbing that our town would be using public money to fund public art that is neither inspired nor provocative. If all we want is to feel good about ourselves, just invest the money on Paxil for the People.


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